The History of Horse Racing in Alabama


The love for the horses of Alabmians is unmatchable. According to an Auburn University survey, more than 44,000 Alabama households are part of the state’s equine industry as horse owners, breeders, volunteers, service providers, and employees.

Today, horses also contribute immensely to the local and state economy. However, the industry saw several ups and downs before kissing the success.

Sneak Peek into Alabama Horse Racing History

European explorers and white settlers introduced horses to the Cotton State. Soon, horses became a crucial part of the Alabamian culture as natives used them for various purposes, including entertainment, transportation, and work. So, the number of equines only grew in the state.

By the 19th century, horse racing became a famous activity in Alabama. The events became more prominent around Huntsville and Birmingham state fairs. 

Further, the Birmingham Turf Club opened in March 1987, which was 7,000 acres of thoroughbred horse race track. Sadly, the course remained functional only for a short period. As the goals didn’t materialize, the operators filed for bankruptcy within a year. Milton McGregor bought the racino in 1992, and his family continued his legacy after his death.

There was also a decent decline in the use of horses for agriculture with the advent of mechanization after World War I. However, the tables turned again. With the growing fondness for outdoor activities among youngsters, the horse industry returned with a bang!

The state got its official Alabama Horse Council trade association in 1995. It manages all segments of the horse industry, including fair legislation, improving equestrian facilities, and enhancing the quality of life for equines. The council also conducts awareness programs for horse owners.

Besides, this organization hosts and manages the Alabama Horse Fair in Montgomery every year. These events bring in massive revenue for the state. For instance, the Racking Horse World Celebration adds $2.7 million to the local Priceville municipality.

Next, the Alabama Farmers Federation formed a horse commodity group in 2007 due to residents’ growing interest.

Alabama Derby

Alabama Quarter Horse Racing Association hosts grade III races for three-year-old horses annually. From 1987 to 1995, the activity happened at Birmingham Turf Club. Gene St Leon rode a colt and won the first 1 1/80-mile derby race on April 11, 1987, with a time of 1:51 while Homebuilder finished second. Gene took home $240,000 with this victory. 

Later, Delta Downs Racetrack and Casino (previously Louisiana Downs) started hosting the Alabama Derby races.

Alabama’s Growing Horse Clubs

The state got its largest horse club in 1998 – the Alabama Open Horseman Association. It hosts 256 shows in the state. Besides, Montgomery organizes the annual State Championship Horse Show during the Labor Day weekend. This event facilitates the State Champion horses. 

Today, the state has myriad small and large horse clubs affiliated with various breed organizations. For instance, the Alabama Trail Ride Association, the Montgomery Area Dressage and Combined Training Association, 4-H Horse Clubs, and the Alabama Quarter Horse Association. 

Popular Horse Breeds in the Cotton State

It’s no secret that horse riding is immensely popular among Alabamians. Initially, easy-gaited riding horses have been popular breeds in the Heart of Dixie. Other famous horse breeds are the smooth-gaited Tennessee walking and racking horses. Alabama also saw a resurgence of draft horse breeds in the past few years. 

Currently, the state has over 49,000 registered quarter horses. Besides, Alabama gave the world two new horse breeds, i.e., the McCurdy Horse and the Racking horse.

Horse Race Punting in Alabama

Alabama gambling laws permit horse race betting to the residents. However, there’s no active horse track in the state right now. The era of live greyhound racing ended after the Birmingham Race Course discontinued the sport in 2019. 

Instead, the operator switched to historical parimutuel betting with 301 machines. Besides, there’s a facility to punt on live races or simulcast racing remotely.

Unlike bingo or slot, the parimutuel betting machines feature real races held in the past 15 years. Punters can place random bets or use real-time horse and jockey data. With the growing popularity among Alabamian gamblers, the operator increased the number of horse-wagering machines in the facility. 

Dr. Lewis Benefield claims that the racino paid more than $120 million in state and local taxes from 1992 till now. He’s the current president of the Birmingham Race Course. 

State’s Horse Gambling Commission

The state incorporated the Birmingham Racing Commission in Jefferson County in 1984. As per Alabama Code 1975, this gambling commission regulates and manages the Birmingham Race Course Casino.

In 2022, the Birmingham Racing Commission contributed over $4 million to Jefferson County and Shelby County. The state used these funds for charities, hospitals, schools, fire departments, and municipalities.

The primary factor for this massive revenue has been the 996 parimutuel betting machines at the casino venue. It shows Alabama gamblers love placing stakes on historical horse races. Besides, 19% of the net commission revenue is for sponsoring the municipality of Birmingham Race Course Casino.


What are the horse riding locations in Alabama?

Some popular horse riding destinations are Talladega National Forest, Flint Creek Multiple-Use Trail, Owl Creek Horse Camp, and Shoal Creek Ranger District.

Is horse race betting legal in Alabama?

Yes, Alabama statutes allow horse race betting.

Does Alabama have a lot of horses?

As per the Auburn University study, there are approximately 187,000 horses in Alabama.

Wrapping It Up

The horse racing industry has always been rich and vast in the Cotton State. The market insights say around 5% of Alabamian households have some connection to horses. 

Fast forward to today, equines are pivotal in shaping Alabama’s economy as they directly produce goods and services.

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Mike Brown
Mike Brown
Mike Brown is an News Editor at Storify News Times - Understand the Breaking News He is an India journalist lives in California, United States. He has worked at several news networks in his career. He specialises in reporting about editorial, advertising and general management topics for World News Publishing Focus, as well as contributing content to the website.

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